My Fake Life: The Utter Failure of "Revolutionary Road"

June 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

When couples get to that place where they begin to despise each other, when they’ve run out of things to pick at each other about, the only thing left to critique is the physical: the body, the hair, the clothes.

If “Revolutionary Road”, newly out on DVD, had any connection to reality — which it decidedly does not — then Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Frank Wheeler would have had a field day with his wife’s voice.

I don’t know where Kate Winslet came up with this thing, but the strangulation you hear in her dire American pronunciation seems to have choked off the rest of her body. “Fronk”, April Wheeler says to her husband in what is more air than sound. There’s a reason she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for this film, and it wasn’t because this was a great performance that was overlooked. After a while I wanted to drive thin steel needles into my eyes rather than listen to any more of her braying.

There are few movies as emotionally dishonest as this one. My pet peeves — “The Big Chill”, “Forrest Gump” (ack!), “St. Elmo’s Fire” and, yes, “American Beauty” — now have a new rival for sheer ridiculousness.

How anyone liked this movie — from its first disingenuous frame to the last wheeze of preposterousness — is a true mystery. You really wonder how anyone could have looked at that film and said, yes, this is art. Even the studio execs must have watched the film and hoped that the teenagers who fell in love with those free spirits in “Titanic” more than a decade ago would be so desperate to see Kate and Leo together again that the movie they were in wouldn’t actually matter.

Speaking of “Titanic”, I think maybe Sam Mendes knew his vision of this movie was so bankrupt that he took the time to insert a tiny homage to his wife Kate’s earlier blockbuster.

In “Revolutionary Road”, April Wheeler commits adultery with her neighbor in a car outside a tavern they were drinking at. They’re making love in the car, and as the man gets on top of her he slams his open hand against the car window behind her. The gesture seemed so unnatural — it isn’t anything anyone would do — that it jumped into my head that Mendes was making a visual reference to the famous moment in “Titanic” when Kate and Leo finally did it and her open hand slams against the steamed up window of the car they were in.

Maybe it’s just me, and I was seeing things, but I doubt it. Then again, I was looking for anything to entertain myself at this point.

I know that the story of Richard Yates is a sad one, and I know this novel was not well received when it was published in 1961, but it doesn’t negate the fact that this was pretty thin gruel to begin with.

I never understood the Wheeler’s plight — they always seemed more of a novelist’s vision of a suburban couple than any one you would actually know — and despite the exactness of Yates’s prose, I also never understood why they or any one else would think the Wheelers were so special.

April wants to be an actress, yet clearly doesn’t have the talent for it. And nothing Frank ever does or says indicates that the world would be better off if we all knew about him.

Their desire to flee suburbia — in this case a pretty well-heeled subdivision in Connecticut — is wholly based on a poet’s notion that this kind of existence is inherently hellish. It isn’t. I just drove to my parent’s house in a neighborhood more or less like the one in “Revolutionary Road” — it is the same house I grew up in — and there was nothing stifling or deadening about that place.

And when the movie version was released, I wondered who would relate to this story. Movies are more devoted than ever to appealing to the common denominator, so you’d think that a movie that critiques suburban life would have a pretty small audience. Coupled with the fact that a nice leafy house in Connecticut would seem like a pretty good dream to most.

So I think the success of this was resting on the formidable shoulders of our two leads. As much as I like these two — I’m pretty much a fan of each — it was disheartening to see them so out of the scope of their own experience.

Both of them may have known heartache, and disappointment, and even failure, to be sure, but I don’t think either one of them has a clue about the endless days and nights of sameness that does kill so many dreams. Neither of them has known what it is like to go into the same office every day, in some cases for years, to work at something that you don’t love while also knowing that it certainly does not love you back.

You can see Kate and Leo floundering here — relying on acting tics to get them through. They know nothing about the terror of the anonymous and quiet desperation so many people feel; they have no empathy, no bond. I almost, for a second, felt sorry for them, which is the worst thing you can ever feel for an actor.

At then end of the movie, Frank Wheeler is sitting in what is supposed to Central Park, watching his kids play. He’s sitting on a bench, and the trees are in bloom. Tiny sections of the facades of some old magnificent New York apartment building peek through the leaves ever so slightly. It is a measure of the movie that I was looking at the background rather than at the actors. And, suddenly, I thought — are those buildings real, or were they digitally inserted? I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet money the shot was faked. Fake Central Park. Fake buildings. Fake acting.

Fake movie. What a shame.


The Oscars Are Here! Yawn.

February 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson


The reason the Oscars recede each year in the public consciousness has nothing to with the award itself, really, or if the winning movies were hits or misses. It has to do with the way movies are marketed, and the ubiquity of our movie stars.

The Oscars are unimportant today because the formula for success has been inverted. In decades past, it was the movies that stuck around your neighborhood theater for weeks if not months at a time. The movie was your primary connection to the movie star. Now the movie is like a by-product of stardom.

As the movie itself fades, the stars themselves seem to never get off the stage. By the time the Oscars are broadcast we’ve forgotten the movies and we’re also bored to tears with everyone in the audience at the Kodak Theater. That’s a recipe for irrelevance.

My One Prediction

Without having seen the film (it simply does not interest me) I don’t think Kate Winslet will win an Academy Award tonight for “The Reader.” This is based on wholly unscientific research: there are YouTube parodies out there. I don’t think the folks in Hollywood are going to honor something that has been so stingingly and wonderfully mocked.

And, plus, the producer and director had to release a statement defending the film.

Not good.

If I were Kate Winslet, I’d be heading in tonight’s ceremony with trepidation. If she loses, it might be because she pumped too hard for the Oscar for a role that people ultimately were uncomfortable rewarding. If she wins, it won’t be for one of her universally well-liked roles, but rather it will be for one that, well, people didn’t see or really care about.

Here’s one of the parodies:

Gratuitous Coen Brothers Critique

Last year I only had to laugh when the Coens were honored with the top Oscars, because I think even they must admit in their quiet moments that their movies are a put on. I don’t mean to say they are a joke that people can get. I mean to say that each year they put out a cinematic version of a pet rock or a Chia Pet, and there are enough frightened intellectuals out there who say, “How cool is that!”, and there are enough people too unhip not to want to be in on this so-called joke, so they also say, “How cool is that!” The Coens, meanwhile, must laugh everytime someone writes them a check.

I imagine them writing the screenplay for “Miller’s Crossing” and cackling hysterically every time they wrote the phrase, “And you gave me the high hat!” while at the same marvelling they were being paid to write, “high hat!”

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis will be the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award this evening. I looked Lewis up on and was surprised to learn that he had never even been nominated for an Oscar. I say I was surprised because it did not seem unreasonable that Lewis would have been nominated for something, at some time. But no.

He did legitimately lose out once: He deserved to be nominated, and to win, for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “The King of Comedy”, Martin Scorcese’s great movie from 1982. Lewis played a pompous talk show host named Jerry Langford, who is later kidnapped by Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) and the whacked Masha, played by Sandra Bernhard.

The scene where Pupkin and his would-be girlfriend (Diahanne Abbott) show up at Langford’s house is one of the classic cringe-inducing scenes of all-time, and Lewis makes it work. This was a great performance undeservedly overlooked.

Here’s that scene:

Movies, Where Art Thou?

January 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

By Lars Trodson

I had finished reading Richard YatesRevolutionary Road because of the way it been described in movie reviews, and I was intrigued. I also wanted to see the movie. I had mixed feelings about the book – very sad, with little pity for almost anyone in it — but I’ll save that for another time. But I still wanted to see the movie.

Anyway, this Saturday, after New Year’s, I figured I had the time to see it. So I checked out the local movie times, and I couldn’t find it. I looked at the Strand, in Dover, not there, either. It was nowhere to be found.

Now, I was certain the movie had been released because I had seen Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on TV promoting it — that’s what you do when the movie comes out, right?

Then I looked at box office figures, thinking, oddly, that maybe the movie just tanked. I didn’t think that could be so, but I thought I would check anyway. I read on a movie site that the film had grossed just under $400,000 — oh, my, I thought. But then I saw that it had been released to just 38 theaters.


And then I came across this piece in the New York Times, and everything became clear. Well, not clear. It’s just that things were explained to me.

It’s too bad, because maybe when ‘Revolutionary Road’ finally hits Portsmouth I’ll no longer be in the mood to see it.

Here’s the piece:

Where Am I?

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